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E22 | Games | Asymmetrical Player Powers Power Players Asymmetrically

Iced down whiskey, good mead at our tavern, and the ultimate question of "Who are you playing" are all integral parts to this 22nd episode of our Podcast! In this boardgame episode we talk about games which have different player powers, what we like, games we wouldn't want them in, and then give some recommendations! Alongside we talk about what we have been playing recently and enjoy some cold brews!


What's on our Flight (00:50)

  • Dalton’s drinking: Rose from Terre Haute Brewing Company. A Belgian dark strong ale, and one of my favorite beers I've tasted in a long time! At 10.8 ABV and 23 IBU, this smooth beer comes across thick and bready like many Belgians and has a dark fruit spice flavor that sits on the pallet with a lovely finish. 4 cheers for this beer, I will absolutely buy again!

  • Nelson's drinking: Bone Snapper Straight Rye Whiskey. This bold and spicy Rye is bottled at 108 proof, so it needs ice or a water back to open up past the alcohol and be enjoyed. 95% Rye in the mash brings the rye spice forward, so expect that when tasting! 2 cheers for Nelson, he is looking to try others before buying this one again.


What's On Our Table (05:59)

  • Dalton: We hosted the first Fantasy and Some Flights Game Night over Discord last month, which went very well! We had games of Terraforming Mars, Taverns of Tiefenthal, Splendor, and Deception: Murder in Hong Kong all hit the virtual table. The event was hosted through our Discord, which you are welcome to join here. We are planning our next game night the weekend after the release of this episode and continuing on a monthly basis after that, we hope you join us!

  • Nelson: Exploring the Realms of Rondels this month! Rondel is a mechanic where players advance around a repeating pattern with each step on the pattern representing an action that can be taken. Great Western Trail and Maracaibo are both examples we have previously discussed where a Rondel is central to the game mechanics. Imperial, Teotihuacan, Trajan, and The Red Cathedral are other examples of Rondels that hit the table for Nelson this month!


The icebreaker question for this episode was submitted by Schmahka (20:39)

What is a house rule that you would not play a game without, so much so that you forget it is not in the core game rules?

  • Honorable Mention: Game of Thrones: The Board Game, power tokens should be tradable. We have discussed this previously, it has been printed as a part of an expansion so it is an official rule. Without it the game does not function.

  • Dalton: Terraforming Mars, that players can choose the beginner corporation in addition to 2 more at the start of the game. This enhances an excellent decision at the start of the game and normalizes the deal so that players are not put at a disadvantage right at the start of the game.

  • Nelson: Age of Steam, "Emergency Shares" that players can sell shares of their company for $3 during their turn, as opposed to $5/share at the start of the round. This helps prevent punishing situations where a player runs out of funds during a round because they forgot to sell enough shares at the start of the round.

Schmahka, thank you so much for the submission! If you are looking for us to answer a question, submit your question here.


Discussion starts at 28:02 in the episode

Asymmetrical Player Powers (APP) are anything where players have play options (actions, abilities, scoring etc.) available to them (and only them!) as a set of rules or attributes selected at the start of the game. 7 Wonders illustrates the point very well. The base civilization that you select at the start of the game is an example of an APP. The Leaders expansion allows players to draft power-giving "Leaders" cards as the first round in the game. Leaders are not an APP because they are not chosen during setup (they are drafted while the game is progressing) and are not unique to the player. A key way to identify an APP is by asking the question: "Is there a set of rules or attributes available to me in this game that is different than what other players have access to, and could I have access to their rules or attributes if we played again?"

Games will choose how central they want an APP mechanic to be to the game, and many games have achieved anywhere on the spectrum from very minimal involvement to completely central to the game experience. This can influence a player's need to play in to the strengths of their APP or completely ignore it. For example, Gaia Project is an extremely well balanced game with strong APP in the races. A player ignoring their APP will be at a significant disadvantage against players who are leveraging their APP to the most benefit. Compare that to Game of Thrones: The Board Game, where the primary source of APP is the board position at the start of the game. The other differences in the nations are relatively small compared to how the players start the game, leading to defined opening strategies which the players naturally follow.

The strength of APP lies in the varied experiences and decision making that is rewarded to the players for increased complexity. However, there are examples of games where APP would detract from the experience. Many economic games require flexibility in strategy which the "railroading" effects of APP would ruin. Additionally, APP can lead to situations where a player who understands the abilities available to all other players has an inherent advantage over the other players who, even though the information is available to them, may be struggling to overcome the extreme complexity of APP games. Vast by Leder Games and Gaia Project are both examples of games that offer advantage to the player who knows the most about the APP in the game.

Recommendations start at 43:25 in the episode

Low Complexity

  • Nelson: Dead of Winter. One of the earliest games in our library, players strive to survive a zombie apocalypse together, each with different characters contributing to their APP and a secret objective known only to them which influences their win condition. There is a chance that one player in the bunch is a "Betrayer," a zombie sympathizer who strives to destroy your already slim chance of survival. MEC: M - 5.5, E - 7.5, C - 9, Overall: 6.9.

  • Dalton: Cosmic Encounters. An iconic and very early implementation of APP. The game is essentially a very simple combat and political landscape influence by very few mechanics except those of the hundreds of playable races. The development of these races is a true accomplishment, with abilities ranging from minor advantages to potentially game breaking. No 2 games will ever be the same. MEC: M - 7.5, E - 8.5, C - 5, Overall: 7.5.

Medium Complexity

  • Dalton: Dune. This game has been thoroughly discussed by us and previously recommended by Nelson in episode 14. Dune, like Cosmic Encounters, gives the player the feeling of playing with abilities that are seemingly game breaking. However, it is elegantly balanced and shows off the availability for APP to play in to theme, especially for games that are already heavily themed around an existing show or novel. MEC: M - 7.5, E - 9, C - 8.5, Overall 8.5.

  • Nelson: Clans of Caledonia. "Gaia Project: Lite." Players place tokens from their player mats to unlock components of their income. There is also a market mechanic driving commerce in the game which adjusts prices of goods as players purchase them. APP gives players direction in the game which is not necessary to win but helps guide players to a winning strategy in this relatively short Euro. MEC: M - 7.5, E - 7.5, C - 7.5, Overall 7.5.

High Complexity

  • Nelson: Gaia Project. The big brother of Terra Mystica and another thoroughly discussed game for us. APP is central to a competitive strategy in Gaia Project, so much so that even the decision of which race to play can be highly influential on the outcome of the game. Unfortunately, this makes highly competitive play very difficult for new players. The reward is delicately balanced game with rewarding strategy and decisions throughout the game. MEC: M - 10, E - 8.5, C - 9, Overall 9.2.

  • Dalton: Twilight Imperium (4th Edition). My favorite game of all time, it was bound to hit the recommendations eventually! Specifically, Twilight Imperium is a masterful exercise in APP implementation. Every mechanic seems a contender for APP potential, giving the races a multitude of detailed abilities that completely immerse players in the experience of their race. The upcoming expansion, Prophesy of Kings, continues to introduce new races and generate APP content for the existing ones, continuing the dominance of this franchise among APP games. MEC: M - 9.5, E - 8.5, C - 9, Overall 8.9.

Thanks for reading! Let us know what your favorite APP game is in the comments!


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